OS Grid Reference: SE 30657 33295. In St Peter’s parish church on Kirkgate in Leeds, west Yorkshire, there is a very tall and slender 10th century Anglo-Saxon wheel-headed cross, which stands on the Altar Flat. This very large city centre church is nowadays called Leeds Minster or ‘The Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds’. The cross-shaft fragments were discovered in the late 1830s when the tower was being demolished, but much of the present cross is a Victorian reconstruction of the original one, or as near to that as possible. There are several carved (sculptured) panels on the tall cross-shaft whereas other sections have nothing at all; and though it looks to be somewhat “cobbled-together’, it is a fairly credible-looking piece of construction. The church “here” was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) which stated that Leeds had a church, a priest and a mill; at this time the ruling overlord of Leeds was Ilbert de Lacy and the underlord, Ralph Paganel (Paynel). There may have been an earlier religious building on this site as far back as the early 7th century AD.
Joseph Sprittles writing in the parish guide book says of the Anglian Cross in St Peter’s that it is: “composed of sculptured stones found in the tower fabric of the old church when it was taken down. These were claimed by the architect who on retiring to Rottingdean caused the stones to be erected in his garden. After the death of Chantrell in 1876 the Vicar of Leeds, Dr John Gott, on learning the house was to be sold sought the purchaser and made him an offer for the Cross and, after much bargaining bought the ancient stones for £25 and had them conveyed to Leeds where, four years later the cross was re-erected on the Altar Flat. The date of the Cross is thought to be c.925 A.D.”
The restored cross shows Anglian and Scandinavian workmanship. It seems to be a platform for the Norse Legend of Weland the Smith, who features extensively on the monument. Weland or Weyland is depicted in a panel at the bottom of the cross in his flying machine with his tools of the trade. There are 10 carved sandstone panels but also some empty ones. Also, there is the usual interlacing, scrolls and end-knots, and a number of human figures both male and female as well as birds of prey. We see a cloaked figure holding a sword, a figure with a halo, a female figure held aloft by another figure, a female figure holding a horn, two hands grabbing hair; also Weland abducting the daughter of King Nidlad and Weland with a bird of prey. The wheel-head is considered not to be as old as the rest of the shaft and apparently comes from a different cross altogether. More information on this cross can be found on the Howard Williams (Archeodeath) website (see the link below).
Author Frank Bottomley (1993) says regarding St Peter’s that it is a: “Medieval parish church replaced in 1841 with a significant building marking Anglian revival. Preserves spectacular A/S cross, fourteenth-century effigy, two fifteenth-century brasses and a large number of later monuments. Fifteenth-century font with seventeenth-century cover. ‘Brought in’ medieval glass (east window) and much of nineteenth-century.” Jones & Tricker (1992) add that Leeds is a: “A vast and overpowering town, but a great oasis for churches. The parish church of St Peter is unique because of its cathedral-type musical tradition – and what a place it is, rebuilt in 1841 for its famous vicar , W.F. Hook, to the designs of R.D. Chantrell. The exterior is massive, with a stately (144 ft ) tower. The interior is mighty and dignified, built to accom-modate 2,000 and full of seating and comm0dious galleries, but with the clear early Tractarian feel that it is not just a preaching house.”
Sources and related websites:-
Bottomley, Frank, Yorkshire Churches, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1993.
Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.
Sprittles, Joseph, Leeds Parish Church – History and Guide, Tower Publications, St. Marks, Cheltenham, Glos.,
The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.